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Colombia’s Choice: ‘Fascism’ or ‘Protest Vote Without Program’

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As Colombians vote in the presidential run-off election this Sunday, they face a stark choice between the far-right/fascist candidate Ivan Duque and the center-left Gustavo Petro. Even though the center-left has enough votes, infighting could very well keep Petro from winning, says Manuel Rozental of pueblosencamino.org

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.

Colombia will hold a presidential runoff election this Sunday, where it faces a very clear choice. On the one hand, there’s Ivan Duque, a right-wing candidate and protege of former President Alvaro Uribe. The other choice is Gustavo Petro, a former Marxist guerrilla fighter who has since become a center-left politician since he demobilized in the 1980s, and who also once was mayor of Colombia’s capital, Bogota. Petro has placed social justice concerns at the center of his campaign. Here’s a clip of what he had to say about his political beliefs in a recent interview.

GUSTAVO PETRO: The truth is I want to transform the country. That has been my calling almost since I was a child. From a very early age I became politically active, and the coherent thread that has conducted my political activities has been a desire to change Colombia. And I would like to change it from the perspective of democracy and social justice.

GREG WILPERT: Ivan Duque, on the other hand, emphasizes the development of capitalism in Colombia. Here’s a clip from a recent interview with him.

IVAN DUQUE: Our vision of entrepreneurship contrasts with the visions of expropriation, class hatred, legal uncertainty, because things are run based on the governor’s state of mind- something we already know has caused damage in other countries of the region. So investors can have absolute clarity that my goal for them is to come to the country, and their investments translate into improvements in the living conditions of Colombians.

GREG WILPERT: On the back of many Colombians’ minds, though, is the fate of the peace agreement that current President Juan Manuel Santos signed with Colombia’s largest remaining rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARQ.

Joining me now from Colombia to analyze the presidential election is Manuel Rozental. Manuel is a longtime activist, communicator, and analyst. Also, he is the founding member of Pueblos en Camino, People on the Move, a grassroots initiative of resistance to capital. Thanks for being here today, Manuel.

MANUEL ROZENTAL: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT: So the latest polls indicate that the conservative or right-wing candidate Ivan Duque, who won 39 percent of the vote in the first round of the election, remains ahead by at least 6 percent compared to Gustavo Petro. How do you see the chances now of Gustavo Petro winning at this point, and what obstacles in terms of media and in terms of the electoral process is he confronting?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Gustavo Petro has a good chance to win, but the second part of your question will determine whether that’s possible. And the reason is, in fact, the establishment was defeated in the first run. If you add the votes of Gustavo Petro as a center-left, as you describe him, and the other center-left, who is Sergio Fajardo, if you add those two they defeated Duque and Alvaro Uribe by 10 percent points, at least. Therefore the establishment was already defeated in the first election. The expectation was that on the second run Fajardo would join Petro, because there are really not very clear differences between the programs of the two candidates. Yet Fajardo did not join Petro, and there’s a strong anti-Petro sentiment in many of the people who voted for Fajardo. And hence, Petro has lost many of the votes that should have gone to him. And many of these votes have either gone to Duque, the far right, or have, will, will not vote for either one of these candidates. Those are the difficulties now.

GREG WILPERT: So then why, exactly, is Fajardo-. I believe he called, actually, for people to cast blank ballots. Why is there this animosity towards Petro? I mean, considering what you said, that their campaign platforms aren’t all that different. What is the reason for this reluctance to endorse Petro, which would prevent a right-wing, a continuation of a right-wing government in Colombia?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: That’s, that is, I wish I could know clearly. But I, I think, having been inside and very close to people close to Fajardo, and people who have been close to Gustavo Petro, knowing the history from within, I can tell you. And to provide people with some context, these elections are about fascism on one side. And I’m not exaggerating. A fascist party led by Alvaro Uribe and controlled by him. That fascist party is also a fundamentalist Christian-supported party; a far-right party who will privatize and launch war again, and who’s against the peace agreement between the government and FARC. And on the other side really what has mobilized people almost to a tie between Petro and Fajardo has been a vote against the establishment. It’s not really a political program for change. It is actually a resistance, an opposition, an attempt to stop fascism.

What happened, though, is that those that are close to Fajardo, not all of them, but Robledo and Fajardo himself, their attitude is more a calculation to win elections rather than a calculation to stop fascism. It’s not a political difference. There’s not a difference in programs. There is actually a selfish interest in winning elections rather than reading a very difficult context and trying to stop, or at least delay, fascism. From my point of view what’s going on in Colombia right now is that politics have been replaced by electoral, party elections. And the most people in Colombia are demobilized. So at best we have a protest vote without programs against fascism. But without programs, that weakens these protest vote, and it weakens it to a point where people don’t realize that if we don’t stop fascism, and being disorganized as we are, we have very little chance for any future, because it looks very bleak.

An all-out war worse than the one we had before is likely the outcome of an election of Uribe. Not Duque. Duque is just the name. Nobody knows Duque. Nobody. Uribe placed Duque as his candidate so he can control and manipulate for a fascist program these elections.

GREG WILPERT: I think it’s interesting the point that you make about this not being, that the Petro campaign that is the alternative to Duque is not really about change, considering that Petro recently said that he would not endorse or would not campaign for a change of the Constitution or, or even work towards towards a redistribution of wealth in Colombia. But still, of course that doesn’t make the election any less important.

And that gets me to the other point which you just raised, which is the peace agreement with the FARC, which was finalized early last year. One would think that Colombians ought to support the agreement, considering that the civil war with various rebel groups lasted over 50 years, and it’s cost the lives of over a quarter million Colombians, displacing over seven million from their home. How is it that, how has the peace agreement, that is, factored into this campaign, and why isn’t the candidate who supports the agreement, Gustavo Petro, ahead in this race?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: That’s, if people remember, there was a plebiscite or a referendum on the peace agreement that we all assumed, just as you have assumed in your question, that Colombians would vote for just to end the war. It was not, it is not a good agreement, and it is not a peace agreement. It’s the end of the war between FARC and the state. It does not transform the country essentially, the structures remain the same. The origin of the violence has not changed. And at the moment the government of Colombia, Santos’ government, has betrayed the agreement and has not fulfilled any of it. Any of it. There’s more than 400 assassinated social leaders throughout the country since the peace agreement was signed. Yet it was the only thing we had, and we expected for people to vote for it.

And yet the Uribe troops, the Uribe fanatics and followers warn, and this goes back to the point I was making when I started, one has to realize, with all the complexities involved, that there is fascism in Colombia, and fascism is popular. There is a leader, a strong leader. The strong leader, Uribe, has a lot of power, holds a lot of power, a lot of resources, and uses this power through intimidation or buying out or controlling jobs, et cetera. Plus many of the fundamental Christian groups. So I will translate these into numbers clearly and you’ll understand this.

Uibe and his followers will get six and a half million votes no matter what elections, no matter what for, no matter what the issue. They did that in the referendum and defeated the peace agreement. And so they have these massive people that will vote for them, that will vote for Uribe, for a strong hand, even though that means war and destruction. That is growing in Colombia. Add to this six and a half million people voters that are subservient, obedient, and will vote without thinking much, add at least one more million of Christian parties that have joined them, and who will also obey the preachers. That is what’s going on in Colombia.

So a fundamentalist, far-right Mafia type, drug trafficking associated, big business, paramilitary structure, with a lot of power. And that is what you have on the one hand. And on the other hand you have a disorganized social movement that is divided, that is afraid to call itself left, because of the failure of the progressive governments in the Americas and the catastrophe in Venezuela, and now Nicaragua. And because there’s a left that has not grown through self-criticism to realize what the left should be in terms of autonomy, resistance, and constructions of alternatives from below. It’s a dependent left, and a left that wants power within the structures that are controlled by the right.

That explains why candidates like Petro and Fajardo do not challenge the establishment. They are very careful to try and go within the establishment without changing the rules, and yet rule as alternatives to fascism. So at best we have some kind of a center. But I have to point out that what is absent in Colombia, and not only in Colombia, what has been dismantled with the peace agreement, after the peace agreement and before, our social movements that wanted and are willing and have been capable of constructing autonomy and anti-capitalism. Territorial-based and from below. These were captured through the post-conflict or the post-peace agreement processes, or through the electoral processes. So rather than popular agendas from below to construct alternatives to capital, what we’re left with is a political electoral contest between fascism and a center right that calls itself center left, in the context of the failure of all progressive governments in the continent.

GREG WILPERT: Well, unfortunately, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. But Hopefully we can have you back, perhaps after the election, to analyze the result. I was speaking to Manuel Rozental, activist and founder of Pueblos en Camino. Thanks again for having joined us today.

MANUEL ROZENTAL: No, it’s my pleasure. Thanks, Greg.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. Also, keep in mind we recently started our summer fundraiser, and need your help to reach our goal of raising $200000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. Unlike practically every other news outlet, we do not accept support from governments or corporations. Please do what you can today.